From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 5, Number 3 - April 14, 2005
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Grizzly occupancy plan shrinks

by Cat Urbigkit

It has been 30 years since the State of Wyoming had sole responsibility for managing grizzly bears within its borders and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is ready to re-take this authority once again.

Since 1975, the grizzly bear population in the Yellowstone ecosystem has been listed as "threatened" under the federal Endangered Species Act. With the grizzly bear population biologically recovered, WG&F is preparing to again assume responsibility for managing grizzly bears within the borders of the state.

A state grizzly bear management plan was adopted by the WG&F in early 2002. WG&F also developed a grizzly bear occupancy proposal to define areas within the outer occupancy boundary in the state plan where low numbers of grizzly bears would be managed for, or their occupancy would be discouraged, because the areas are not socially acceptable, biologically suitable or have a high potential for human/grizzly bear conflicts. The proposal was the subject of much controversy and concern, especially to western Wyoming residents residing where bears would be allowed to roam.

After examining more than 17,000 written comments from the public, WG&F is now recommending six changes to its proposed plan for grizzly bear occupancy in Wyoming. The comments, the largest response WG&F has ever received in a public involvement process, contained nearly 76,000 individual statements on the proposal. Wyoming residents contributed 5,168 (29.5 percent) comments. Of those, 4,421 (85.6 percent) came from people living in Fremont, Hot Springs, Sublette, Lincoln, Park, and Teton counties. All other states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and 38 foreign countries, were represented in the other 12,374 (70.5 percent) comments.

"When this last element of the state's management plan is approved by the commission, the stage will be set for delisting the grizzly bear and for the state of Wyoming to take over management of the species," said Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Terry Cleveland. "There is a broad diversity of opinion about where we should manage for grizzlies in Wyoming, and that was reflected in the overwhelming number of comments we received on our occupancy proposal. The Game and Fish Department took all of those comments into consideration and is recommending some important changes to the proposal. At this point, we're confident that the plan strikes a critical balance between managing bear numbers at a level high enough to warrant removal from the Endangered Species List while also trying sincerely to meet the expectations of those who live, recreate, and make their living in areas inhabited by grizzly bears."

A new report containing the recommendations will be presented to the WG&F Commission for approval at its April 26 meeting in Casper.

The recommendations include:

Minimizing human/grizzly bear conflicts through outreach and education, regulated hunting seasons and management of conflict bears in areas of high conflict potential. Actively and consistently discouraging grizzly bear dispersal and occupancy in the Wyoming Range, Salt River Range, southern Wind River Range and other areas of high conflict potential off national forests in northwest Wyoming. Above all else, the revised occupancy document shall reflect the Commission's intent to ensure the Yellowstone grizzly bear population will remain recovered and not become relisted under the Endangered Species Act.

The original concept of a Secondary Conservation Area will not be part of Wyoming's grizzly bear occupancy management program. That means that grizzly bear recovery will continue to focus within the grizzly bear recovery zone, which will be renamed the primary conservation area.

The WG&F will work with the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team to develop a population objective for grizzly bears in Wyoming. The WG&F should finalize protocols to establish allowable mortality thresholds and how the thresholds will be proportioned between Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.

Expand ongoing information and education efforts to help people better understand grizzly bear recovery and management in Wyoming.

Encourage more citizen participation to identify potential causes of human/grizzly bear conflicts and work proactively to address those issues.

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